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Public Safety

Police: More Than 100 Kidnappings In Phoenix Were Misreported

Phoenix Kidnappings
Phoenix Kidnappings

PHOENIX - Officers from the city's police department told an independent panel that 38 percent of the kidnappings reported in 2008 were, in fact, not kidnappings. The panel is investigating the department for allegedly inflating statistics to qualify for more federal money.

Two officers from the department’s Professional Standards Bureau Inspections Unit explained to the five-member Kidnapping Statistics Review Panel that poor classification is at the root of the statistical discrepancies. So far, an internal police audit reveals that 136 of the 358 reported kidnappings in 2008 were mischaracterized. Officer Sean Donegan said that because so many other crimes are often committed in tandem with a kidnapping, officers at times lumped the crimes together and put the wrong codes in their report.

Donegan cited examples of reports that should have been marked as vehicle impoundments, missing persons reports, even translation services that were instead coded as kidnapping reports. “So again, it gave the appearance of an independent kidnapping incident when it wasn’t,” Donegan said.

The 2008 kidnapping statistics were used to secure approximately $2.4 million dollars in federal grant money from the Department of Justice. These grants – “Operation Home Defense” and “Operation Eagle Eye” – required applicants to cite kidnappings “topping 300 incidents” and home invasions “approaching 400 incidents.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the second in a series of meetings that will take place over the next several weeks.

Leaders, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, used the statistics to call Phoenix the “Kidnapping Capital of the US.” After media reports that questioned the accuracy of the department's numbers, city leaders conceded the statistics were innaccurate and temporarily reassigned Police Chief Jack Harris. In January, the Office of Inspector General conducted an inquiry into the accuracy of the statistics used to secure grant money. Shortly thereafter, the police department launched their own internal audit.

The panel is chaired by Karen Thoreson, a former Assistant City Manager for the City of Tucson. Other panelists include retired FBI Special Agent in Charge Larry McCormick; retired Arizona Court of Appeals Judge Cecil Patterson; retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael Ryan; and Professor Michael White, Ph.D., of the Arizona State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

The city manager’s office wants a final report in early May, which given the amount of data the panel is tasked with culling Judge Ryan admits is “very ambitious.”